Why Buffalo Tom's Let Me Come Over was one of the best albums of the 90s
The sonic polish of Poison and Springsteen might have been ruling FM radio, but in a post-Nevermind world Buffalo Tom’s mix of Hüsker Dü and Van Morrison would cause ripples
The late 80s was an odd time to start a band like Buffalo Tom. If it wasn’t Springsteen hitting his commercial apex on FM radio, then it was bands such as Poison and Ratt who were filling the airwaves, even in Buffalo Tom’s sleepy Boston suburbs. For their part, singer/guitarist Bill Janowitz, bassist Tom Maginnis and drummer Chris Colbourn were at home listening to Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, guitar bands from the alternative rock scene who still had a live sound. The very not-live sound that proliferated was, according to Janowitz, the bane of music in the mid-to-late 80s. “Oh, man,” he groans. “I still listen to classic albums from the eighties and I love the material, but can’t stand the production. Even something like Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love, it’s an achievement of great songwriting, but the production really holds it back.” He pauses, then says with a laugh: “Is that heresy?”
We’re talking as Buffalo Tom are a going concern again following a series of sporadic sabbaticals (they insist they never once broke up), and their new album Quiet And Peace is out this month. And while Janowitz is very much a man who lives in the moment, he’s happy to reflect on the band’s early years that peaked with 1992’s irresistible Let Me Come Over. It jangled, rocked and broke hearts. It also brought some sorely missed alt.rock pop notes into the mainstream, post-grunge.
“There was a voracious appetite for that kind of thing in England and Europe,” says Janowitz. “Take a band like Pixies. I was going to the see them play to fifty people in Massachusetts, their own state, before they went to the UK and became very big there. Same thing for our friends Throwing Muses and Dinosaur Jr, too.”
Dinosaur Jr had already played a pivotal part in the Buffalo Tom story, the former’s J Mascis having helped produce BT’s first two albums. But for Let Me Come Over, the band parted ways with Mascis and moved into the picturesque Dreamland Studios, a converted church set among the woods just outside Woodstock.
“It was very beautiful, and so inspiring,” says Janowitz, “We did three days there and we loved it, but we didn’t have the schedule or budget so we did the rest back at Fort Apache studios in Boston.”